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thoughts & musings :: CCC

Monday, 7 June 2010

Living for the moment (part 2)

In part one of ‘Living for the moment’ I looked at the concept that in every minute there is a single second that defines the entire minute and that these significant moments can often leave evidence behind that enable you to relive the entire event much later.

In this second part I’m looking at how significant moments can alter the logical course of events and even be disastrous for your wallet.

When a significant moment occurs, the whole course of events can suddenly turn in an instant. It’s like a car turning at a junction or a light beam hitting an angled mirror.

Consider the example from part one where we examined the scene of a wedding photographer who is walking backwards to fit a large wedding crowd into the shot. We looked at the significant moment where the crowd realise that the photographer is oblivious to the fountain just behind him and decide, as a collective, to keep silent and watch the inevitable moment of schadenfreude.

Before this moment, it is the photographer who is in control of the situation; they have assembled and posed all the guests and the guests have been instructed to keep still and quiet until the photographer is happy that they have achieved their shot.

But when the muffled mumbles and whispers seal the assembled crowd into their conspiracy of mischievous silence the whole scenario is spun on its head. Now it is the crowd of silent guests who assume dominance; the photographer has unknowingly lost all control, a hundred invisible Neroesque thumbs are down and the photographer is condemned to a dunking.

Just as part one carried a warning, so this second installment also comes with a caveat attached.

It concerns a good friend of mine, I’ll call him Tim, mainly because that’s what his parents chose to call him and so if we all stick to parental naming protocol it makes life a lot easier. Tim once told me that he was in danger of throwing his wallet into deep water whenever he walked across a bridge or along a pier.

I initially assumed that otherwise-perfectly-sane-Tim had taken leave of his senses, but once he had talked me through the thought process I found that this series of significant moments was indeed not only very plausible, but in many ways inevitable.

What starts out as a simple piece of logic quickly snowballs through a chain-reaction until black is white and 2+2=5.

Tim’s paranoid thought processes, a series of significant, direction-changing moments, had a very infectious nature to them. And herein lies your warning: reading through the rest of this article could cause you to be forever fearful of your wallet when near deep water. Read on at your own risk.

Moment 01: a piece of unnecessary logic
As Tim is walking along by some deep water, a single statement suddenly strikes. “It would be awful if I threw my wallet over the edge, into the water.”

This is, of course, a superfluous thought and a completely unnecessary safeguard, as Tim obviously has no intention or desire of throwing his wallet into the water, but as soon as this first thought happens then it is already too late, the snowball is already rolling down the hill.

Tim walks on a little farther, thinking through the hassle of having to cancel all his bankcards and buy himself a new wallet until moment 02 strikes.

Moment 02: a new fear dawns

The second stage of the process is where Tim has sworn to himself that he will not under any circumstances be throwing his own wallet into the water, but then wonders if his wallet is safely in his pocket, as it should be. What if his wallet is hanging slightly out of his jacket? It could easily fall out into the water, even without any human assistance.

And so a fail-safe plan swings into action.

Moment 03: the safety check
The plan is quite simple. Tim now plans to put his hand into his pocket to ensure that his wallet is safely deep inside the pocket and not teetering on the edge.

And so his hand goes into the pocket and grabs hold of the wallet to check it is secure and intact where it should be.

So now he just has to take his hand out again.

Moment 04: not so fail-safe after all
The logical course of action is now to simply remove your hand from the pocket, but this overlooks a potentially disastrous possibility. A pocket is only small and so a hand withdrawing from such a confined space could easily drag the wallet out with it.

By performing this check to ensure that your wallet is safe while next to the water you could inadvertently draw the wallet out with your hand and leave it to fall over the edge before you realise what is happening.

So there is only one safe and logical solution left available.

Moment 05: black and white are both looking a little grey

The safest thing to do now is to take a firm grasp of the wallet and lift it out to prevent it accidentally falling out. So Tim now lifts his wallet out of his pocket and keeps a tight hold of it. As long as he holds it securely until he is off the bridge or pier then all will be well.

Moment 06: that little voice

“You were walking along quite happily with your hands by your sides and your wallet safely in your pocket. And now you have quite deliberately reached into your pocket and lifted your wallet out while you are next to some deep water. Why on earth would you do that unless you really were intending to throw it into the water all along?”

That small inner voice has a very valid point. The fear of throwing the wallet into the water has turned the world around 180˚ and turned logic on its head. Black suddenly seems very bright and 2+2 now takes all the digits on one hand to count out the answer.

Moment 07: …


“Oh, arse!”

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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Living for the moment (part 1)

In every minute there is a single second that defines the entire minute. If you just witness this single moment then you will have grasped the essence of the other 59 surrounding seconds. In every hour there is a defining minute and this pattern repeats right up through days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries and millennia.

This significant snippet of time, the moment, is something that writers, photographers, painters and other artists continually attempt to grasp hold of. By capturing a moment, it is possible to encapsulate a much larger narrative into a smaller medium.

In comedy performance much is made of the pregnant pause, that expectant silence that ramps up the anticipation of a killer line. And in other creative areas it can also be an understated moment of seeming inactivity that is the defining point in time.

Take the example of a wedding photographer walking backwards in order to get a large wedding crowd into the shot. Is the most significant moment when the photographer finally tumbles over backwards into the fountain or is it when the assembled crowd all spot the inevitable and decide as a group to stay silent and watch the event unfold?

Although the sight of the photographer screaming as he plunges into the cold water is the more dramatic moment, there is a strong argument to say that the assembled crowd all mumbling sheepishly among themselves, and trying to hide their mischievous smirks behind cheesy photo grins, is the key moment that tells the full story.

One of the most fascinating aspects of these moments is that they can often leave a footprint in time. Long after the moment has passed, evidence can be found of what previously occurred and the entire event can be unpacked and relived afresh.

A perfect example of this was a piece of graffiti I saw in the male toilets of a service station on the A303 near Stonehenge.

[WARNING: the following section features a piece of very explicit sexual profanity. It has been almost entirely starred out, but in case you guess the original word and feel offended you are being warned now.]

Graffiti is always interesting. It’s a mass conversation, completely anonymous, where the participants converse over a long period of time and many of those involved never get to see the replies to their statements.

The predominant themes are generally football teams, racial slurs and fictional offers of sexual services.

The particular message that caught my eye on this occasion was not part of any ‘conversation’ on the wall. It was a huge, brash standalone message that arced across the middle of the wall in arrogant capitals… and it was incomplete.

And it was the fact that it was incomplete that made it stand out. Like an unfinished symphony, this moment of arrested ‘creativity’ revealed something of the mind behind this message.

The scrawled message was simply this:

C*********S WANTED CALL:

The original intention was undoubtedly to append a phone number onto the text, but after the message above only blank white wall stared back.

These three words, in the context of a male toilet wall, mark a moment and by using simple logical steps we can begin to unpack and restore what happened to cause this piece of graffiti to sit abandoned.

The placement and subject matter of the text can lead us to quickly make a few fairly safe assumptions about the writer.

It would not be completely impossible for these words to have been written here by a female, but probability would weigh heavily in favour of the writer being male. We can also guess that the age of the writer would more than likely be somewhere in a very vague 13-18 bracket.

And so we can now picture our young writer, locked away in the lone cubicle of the service station toilets on the A303, pen in hand, poised to make his own contribution to the crowded scrawl of messages on the wall.

Another significant detail is that the letters, although large, were written in biro. A Biro is a superb tool for rendering text on paper, but is highly inadequate at marking letters on a painted wall. The letters are worked over with secondary lines in places where the ball in the pen has failed to mark the wall clearly enough. In places the text is formed as much by the scratches in the paint as the ink itself.

Along with some other evidence we will consider shortly, the use of a biro pen to write the graffiti suggests that the act was not premeditated. This was a spur of the moment decision that occurred to the writer while they were in the cubicle. A thick black marker pen would be the ideal tool for the job and any seasoned individual used to tagging a wall would carry one, but this writer would have to make use of the less adequate biro he finds in his pocket.

The writer decides he is going to write an appeal to people willing to perform ‘a certain sexual act’ and encourage them to call a phone number in response to the request.

Without thinking the entire process through, he launches headlong into his plan and scrawls ‘C*********S WANTED CALL:’ onto the wall.

And now came the vital piece of the puzzle… whose phone number should he add to the message?

One intriguing fact that we cannot make any assumptions about is whether or not this individual had his mobile phone on him within the cubicle. Either way, it made no difference to the final outcome, but it would be a wonderful extra level of detail to the unfolding story.

If he did not have his mobile phone on him then the only source of a candidate phone numbers for his message would have been his memory. With people storing all their numbers on a handy mobile, how many phone numbers do people actually memorise now?

He obviously doesn’t want his own phone number plagued by pranksters so he needs another number that he knows. He is unlikely to decide that his parents would be a good choice of victim, so maybe a friend? But how many friends’ phone numbers can he accurately recall? And if the friend is that close that he can recall their number then does he really want to make them the victim or risk the prank being traced back to him?

The victim needs to be someone that the graffiti writer is not overly fond of, but how many people know the phone numbers of people they dislike?

Even if he did have his mobile on him, does he really want to be overheard in a toilet cubicle making a call to directory enquiries or a friend of a friend, attempting to subtly elicit the phone number of someone whose name he is not entirely sure of?

And so the uncomfortable truth slowly dawns on him and we now have our significant moment. The graffiti writer comes to the conclusion that he has no usable phone number that he can use to complete his message. He has no option but to abandon it and leave it incomplete.

We can imagine him taking a few deep breaths before making his ‘escape.’ He knows that nobody will know for certain that it was him who scrawled the incomplete sentence on the wall, even if someone walks into the cubicle directly after he departs, but he still wants to compose himself into a nonchalant composure to distance himself from the evidence of his idiotic folly screaming on the wall behind him.

He has probably long forgotten this moment by now and I know from another stop at the same service station that the wall has since been repainted and now sports a fresh cloud of scrawl on the brickwork.

But there was always a chance that someone visiting that cubicle would spot the incomplete message and stop to think about what had caused it to be abandoned. That someone might begin to unpack that moment and that the moment might live on and leave its mark elsewhere.

[In Living for the moment (part 2) I will be discussing how a significant moment can completely alter the logical course of events and even be disastrous for your wallet.]

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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Time waits for no man

In a dream last night, a man asked me what time it was and I showed him my watch, which said it was 2:10AM. I woke up a few minutes later and wondered how accurate the watch in my dream had been. Turning to the bedside alarm clock, I saw that indeed, very spookily, it was exactly 2:10AM*

(* For anyone floating in a small boat halfway between Reykjavik and Nuuk)

A while after writing that, I realised that my Reykjavik/Nuuk reference hadn't taken into account BST (British Summer Time). The clock had actually said 3:23AM and so a clock showing 2:10AM GMT would be much closer to home than Iceland or Greenland. Knock off one hour for BST and allow for about 3 minutes of dream time before I woke up and the time lands up at 2:20AM. And, what would you know? I have just checked and discovered that the bedside clock is indeed 10 minutes fast.

So the watch in my dream was spot on, but for GMT, not BST.

Okay, so more fudge than a Devon-Cornwall road-trip, but I am going with it... step aside Derren Brown.

What this does tell me is that not only is my body clock far more accurate than the bedside alarm clock, but that my body clock is still running on GMT and has not adjusted to BST even after two months.

That explains a lot.